I.3.2. Other risks linked to heat waves

Other than morbidity and mortality heat wave risks include risks related to increased water demand, increased economic losses, urban systemic risks like risk with energy systems, displacement, violent conflict, declining work productivity (IPCC 2014)

The risk of water availability reduction results from both increased water demand for irrigation, energy and industry, etc., and from increased evaporative demand. (IPCC 2014)

There is also a risk of economic losses related to the fact that people are affected by heat: there’s a loss of labor productivity, impacts on health and well-being, impacts on agriculture productivity, increased risk of wildfires. (IPCC 2014)

Risks related to air pollution are also important. Air pollution resulting from anthropogenic activities like industries or power production, as well as pollution from wildfires or ozone pollution during heat waves.(IPCC 2014, Fischera et al., 2004) [1]

There are also causal chains among the risks, when one trigger event happens it pulls others. That is why it is important to figure out the parts of the system with most connections – if  this element is damaged as a consequence of an extreme event it might cause the collapse of the whole system. This is especially the case for urban risks associated with energy systems. Example of such a scenario would be the following: unusually high temperatures and low thermal quality of housing during a heat wave induce high energy demand for air conditioning. High energy demand results in additional pressure on the energy supply system. Power stations struggle to produce energy, because the temperature of cooling water is too high and water flow in the river, which is supposed to cool down power plants, is low. When it’s no longer possible to cool down power plants, a blackout happens. At this point a real disaster happens, which influences most of the spheres of human life: disruptions of public transport, of communication system, emergency services and food security are compromised; health and life are at risk.

Moreover, a local state of affairs can be influenced by events occurring in very distant locations. Climate change might cause deterioration in vital resources, as, for example, because of food production disrupted by droughts. This situation will force large masses of the population to migrate and compete for resources elsewhere, putting more pressure on other territories’ resources stock and might result in violent conflict (IOM 2014, IPCC 2014)

The described scenarios are closer to today’s reality than it might seem. During the heat wave of 2003, because of high energy demand and unfavorable environmental operating conditions, nuclear power stations, which produce 85% of electricity in France, had to operate at a much reduced capacity. EdF, Europe’s main electricity exporter, cut its exports more than in half. (Pomadère et al., 2005) This heat wave in France has revealed a series of vulnerabilities in electricity production and use, yet did not end up with blackouts, as for example, in New York, where a short but major disruption of power resulted in loss of life (Stone 2012).

[1] A study of 2003 heat wave in the Netherland showed that an excess of around 400–600 air pollution-related deaths (pollution with ozone and particular matter PM10) may have occurred compared to an ‘average’ summer. Total excess deaths in the Netherlands because of heat wave in 2003 was 1000 – 1400 (Fischera et al., 2004)

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